Strange Murders: “The Hatchet Killer”
Transcript of the original episode, four years ago
Host Wesley Steele: Joy, Montana, a sleepy mountain town with scenic views, quaint shops and lively bars, seemed like the perfect place to either take a break and cut loose before college classes started or to celebrate after the rigors of college. During the summer of 2014, three women, unknown to each other, two who were recent high school graduates and another who had just finished her nursing degree came to Joy to do just that. Samantha Brodie, Emily Lynn, and Abby Marshal traveled here from different parts of the country to hike the trails, swim in the glacier-fed lakes, and take part in the local party scene. But each mysteriously disappeared. And unfortunately, what should have been a normal rite of passage became a bloodbath of terror for these three innocent young women.
It’s Monday morning and still dark outside when I slip from bed and creep away from my sleeping wife to hide in the attic and watch, for the umpteenth time, my favorite episode of Strange Murders.
Lucas Yates, “the Hatchet Killer.” Three bloody murders, all in one summer. The year was 2014, and back then the story was a blip on my radar, news lost amid bigger headlines: ISIS, Robin Williams’s suicide, the Ebola outbreak . . . a dreary year in the news, but I paid little attention to any of it. At twenty-two, I lived a self-absorbed life thousands of miles away in Chicago, on break from my college classes, partying, and hanging with Miranda, my then girlfriend, now wife. What did Lucas Yates and the women he murdered in Joy, Montana, have to do with me?
Nothing. Until the story became an episode on Strange Murders.
A remnant of my childhood when I was weaned on episodes of true crime television, seated on the sofa next to Mother while ash dwindled on cigarette after cigarette, her eyeballs bulging and lower lip gnawed raw as she ferreted clues from the show, and then squawked, “Adam!” “Get me that phone and punch in 1-800-CrimeTV. I need to tell those idiots a thing or two about investigating crime.”
Her claim to her authority resulted from the day she called in a tip that led to the capture of Wayne Cox, wanted for the murder of two store clerks in Skokie. She’d recognized his profile in line at the local Gas Mart—“I’d know that birth- mark anywhere”—and when he left, she’d followed him to the parking lot of a cheap motel down the street and called the cops. Turns out, she was right. He was holed up there, hidden in plain sight. The story exploded in the news: Local Woman Helps Bring Killer to Justice. Reporters came to the house to interview Mother. I warm at the memory of the frenzy of activity, photos, and questions, and the man from the local news channel with a mic in his hand. We recorded the news that night on our VCR, and in the days that followed, I replayed the tape over and over, rewatching the part where Mama mentioned me on camera. “My little armchair detective,” she called me, like we were a team, like I’d helped somehow, and I was hooked. Obsessed, more like it. Mother never had much gumption, not enough to abuse me, nor enough to neglect me; we simply existed together, two bumps on the sofa, until that single moment when she’d coupled us in that public glory, sparking our relationship, the flame growing until a burning desire to please her raged inside me. Anything to recapture that fleeting gleam of pride in her eye. It’s the reason I became a cop. And the reason I eventually left the force, but that’s another story. Not a happy one, either. But in the end, when the cancer had about eaten up both of my mother’s lungs, I spent as much time as I could with her, watching another one of our favorite shows, Strange Murders.
“The Hatchet Killer” was the final episode we saw together. I’ll never forget what she said that evening as she coughed and wheezed, every breath an effort: “Oh, Adam, what I wouldn’t give for us to be the ones to find that damn killer.”
She died the next day. Since then, I’ve spent my free time collecting information on the case. Just like this most current news article I found on a late-night internet dive into the life of Lucas Yates. A tabloid piece about his wife, Kerry, written to generate clicks as it ruins lives. Trash reporting, and I feel slimy reading it, let alone printing it so I can reread it later, but finding Lucas Yates was Mama’s dying wish. And now it’s part of my new job.
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Wife of Notorious Serial Killer Left Holding the Bag
Accused Montana serial killer Lucas Yates is suspected of murdering at least three women during the summer of 2014, dismantling their corpses with a hatchet, and spreading their body parts across the Kootenai Forest. But before he was dubbed the Hatchet Killer, he was thought to be just a normal hard-working husband and father, married to Kerry Yates, a young waitress in Joy, Montana. Although Kerry claims she had no idea of her husband’s penchant for murder, the severed finger of his third victim was found inside a shopping bag in the back seat of her vehicle. With Lucas long-gone, Mrs. Yates was left holding the bag with this damning evidence, yet she still maintained her ignorance and her husband’s innocence. The court of law, however, sentenced her to six years for felony Accessory After the Fact. In a cruel twist of fate, Mrs. Yates is currently serving prison time, while her notorious husband has disappeared. He sure gave his wife “the finger” . . . in more ways than one.
Six years in Montana Woman’s Prison (MWP), four years served, and now for two years she’ll be on parole.
And I’m to be her parole officer.
I fold the paper, cram it into my pocket, and feel a pulse of anticipation. The thought of meeting Kerry gives me a rush like I haven’t felt for years. Something intensely cerebral yet primal.
I can’t wait to get inside her head, pick apart her brain, see what makes her tick. How could you not know your husband was a monster, Kerry? Did you watch as he hacked away at their bodies? Did you help?
Excerpted from The Killer’s Wife by Susan Furlong. US copyright © 2023. Published by Seventh Street Books, an imprint of Start Midnight, LLC, New Jersey. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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